By Sgt. Jerome Bishop
2nd Striker Brigade Combat Team Public Affairs,
25th Infantry Division, Multi-National Division - Baghdad
CAMP TAJI, Iraq – Every morning, thousands of Soldiers wake up to a steaming cup of "Joe" – whether it's black as midnight or mostly cream and sugar, it's part of their daily routine.
In association with the Hawaii Gathering of Eagles organization, coffee farmers from the big island of Hawaii launched "Operation Warrior Wake Up" to provide Hawaii-based Soldiers deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom a little taste of the isles.
"'Operation Warrior Wake Up' is about how local Hawaiian businesses support the troops getting through the everyday grind." said Capt. Ronnie Geronimo, a San Diego native, who serves as the squadron signal officer for 2nd Squadron, 14th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team "Warrior," 25th Infantry Division, Multi-National Division – Baghdad.
Although coffee is available in the form of grounds at the PX or at the numerous coffee shops on Camp Taji, the coffee given to the Soldiers of 2nd SBCT, 25th Inf. Div., is shipped directly from the farmers who grow and harvest it in Kona on the big island of Hawaii.
One man in particular, Robert Gowan, a Captain Cook, Hawaii, native who is the state of Hawaii's coordinator for the Gathering of Eagles organization, took the initiative to start sending local coffee beans to troops from his home state deployed overseas.
Among the units receiving the coffee is the 2nd Squadron, 14th Cavalry Regiment. While this is a seemly random unit, the regiment holds a more personal tie to the man taking the lead in this donation.
In the brutal winter of 1944, the Soldiers of the 14th Cav. Regt. fought in the Battle of the Bulge in Belgium, and among them was Gowan's father while he served in the Army Air Corps, he said.
"So ... here we are, all these years later, and I'm sending coffee to the Soldiers of the 14th Cav. (Regt.), the successors of the very men that stood fast and protected my own father all those years ago," he said. "These Soldiers are my ohana (family)."
Having a tie of ohana to the unit isn't the only motivation behind Gowan's actions, while the unit took part in training at the Pohakuloa Training Area on the big island, Gowan received a special gift from a Warrior, which he keeps close to his heart.
"Last summer, in June, our GOE, Hawaii group, turned out to give an aloha greeting to members of 2nd SBCT, 25th Inf. Div., who were coming to the big island to PTA to train, and whom were traveling up Saddle Road in a convoy," said Gowan. "As they passed us and our troops appreciation sign and many U.S. flags, one Soldier tossed me his own 'Tropic Lightning Division' shoulder patch and, at that moment or shortly thereafter, the idea began to gel that perhaps there was a way I could offer to support these U.S. Army troops, our own 2nd SBCT, 25th Inf. Div. Soldiers based right here in Hawaii."
With the division patch still in his pocket, Gowan began rallying to gain support for his fresh idea to support his troops.
"(The patch) went with me the day I decided to approach my own immediate neighbors, here in the heart of America's only coffee country, with the idea to start sending fresh roasted Kona coffee , which they themselves have grown and freely donated," said Gowan. "They were amazingly receptive. More than being receptive, within days, they had come thru with over 30 pounds of coffee, which I quickly put in the mail to addresses that I'd been given by rear detachment commanders, and it was on its way to Iraq."
A couple of weeks later on Camp Taji, Soldiers of the 2nd SBCT, 25th Inf. Div., are enjoying the local coffee donated by a grateful admirer.
"It really means a lot to the Soldiers in the squadron to have someone support them from state of Hawaii since, at one point, we didn't even know if the Stryker brigade was ever going back there," said Geronimo. "It is good to know that no matter what the political pressures were, there are people from Hawaii that care about the Soldiers. It is also good to have something shipped to you to remind you of home."